Anxious Days in Augusta: County Board Calls Special Meeting over Secret Recordings
Written by: Sam Orlando
AUGUSTA COUNTY, VA - The Augusta County Board of Supervisors will assemble in a specially convened session this Wednesday, as announced discreetly on Monday. The agenda comprises two main items - a prayer and a resolution to procure "certain public records."
This cryptic reference to "certain public records" has led many to speculate that it relates to contentious recordings of closed sessions, which are in the possession of Wayne District Supervisor, Scott Seaton, and which were the subject of much debate at the Board's last meeting.
The controversy surrounding these recordings came to light in May, amidst a tense debate over fees levied on local pet owners by the regional animal shelter. These fees, according to Seaton, have been handled by the county illegally, serving as a sort of ransom demand that, if not paid, would result in the killing of the pet.
Last week, the Board of Supervisors requested Seaton, who previously faced a 6-1 censure vote for his recordings, to surrender these documents. Seaton responded, "If it’s required, yes. But I’m not sharing with anybody, I’m not sharing them with just anybody. Only if it’s required by a judge." While a board resolution doesn't carry the weight of a judge's order by any stretch of the imagination, it could pave the way towards the County seeking one.
Seaton insists he's been recording closed sessions to maintain personal notes, arguing his method is more secure than traditional pen-and-paper notes. It should be noted that everyone, including other Board members, agree that Seaton didn't do anything wrong - it is legal for him to make a recording of a meeting he is in.
However, Seaton's colleagues and, notably, the board's chair, Michael Shull, have expressed concerns about the potential misuse of these recordings. Allegations were made that Seaton was leaking confidential information, particularly pertaining to personnel, to the press. Seaton categorically denied such claims, and Shull was unable to cite to any allegations of such activity actually occurring.
The board intended to vote last week on an updated censure resolution to rectify the dates of the closed sessions alleged to have been leaked. However, the vote was deferred amid confusion over the accuracy of the new resolution's dates.
Seaton responded to the board's request to relinquish the recordings by stating, "If a judge says it’s required, I’ll be glad to give them up." The upcoming special session, with its quest for "certain public records," seems to be the next move in the board's strategy to secure these recordings.